Project Management and Technology

Yesterday I noted some highly successful large-scale projects that succeeded without the use of project management technology.

I make this point - which I also make in my book Legal Project Management and my classes - because I continue to encounter people who believe there's a technology "solution" to Legal Project Management. Worse, some of these folks go around talking about Legal Project Management as if (a) they were experts and (b) LPM software were the French fry needed to complete your Happy Meal.

If you can't manage projects, Microsoft Project isn't going to help. Basecamp won't help. OnIt won't help. Software cannot itself manage projects, nor can it make project managers out of those who can't manage projects. (Note that the converse isn't a given; if you can manage projects, there are times when Project or Basecamp or OnIt may help you do so. And I like Project for those times, and I like what OnIt is trying to do.)

To be clear, I am not saying technology cannot help a budding project manager. Of course it can. These days, it's very difficult for any project manager to lead a project without using Word and Outlook (or equivalents) fluently. A modicum of skill in Excel doesn't hurt, and SharePoint can also be useful.

But these programs don't in themselves do project management. Rather, they serve as tools to collect, organize, and disseminate the information that a project manager needs to learn and share. And they can be well supplemented by low-tech tools such as index cards and whiteboards.

The best project managers I've worked with, even when I was at Microsoft, may or may not have used Microsoft Project; I honestly don't recall seeing Project printouts and such in their offices. Conversely, the worst project managers I worked with often surrounded themselves with MS-Project "artifacts" - often formatted in so misbegotten a manner that the only information these artifacts truly revealed was the project manager's clear lack of skills when it came to using MS-Project. Tools such as Project are useful if you know what you're doing with both project management itself and with this powerful, quirky, and hard-to-learn software tool, but their use correlates neither positively nor inversely, in my experience, with actual project management expertise.

So don't sweat it if you're not comfortable with "project management tools." They're not indicators of success; they are not required for effective project management.

There's lots you can learn about project management from good teachers, coaching, and workplace experience. That's where the value is, and where good results come from.

By the way, I'll be leading another public class in Legal Project Management in a few months - April 7th in San Francisco. You won't become a great project manager from this class alone, of course, but it's a good start on both the art and the science of project management. And early April is a great time of year to be in SF, so sneak out of the office, take your laptop to a café on the Embarcadero with wireless so you can get a little work done, and then look me up for dinner that evening (April 6th).

Read more on the Lexician Blog.